Space Saving Packing Tip : Extra Electrical Outlets On The Road

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23/02/2009 – Space Saving Packing Tip : Extra Electrical Outlets On The Road

A simple fact that all traveling photographers face (and most business travellers as well) is the need to access multiple electrical outlets.

Life was simpler when I first started to travel with my camera equipment and I didn’t need to plug anything in.   Getting on a plane with two cameras, a few lenses, 48 “AA” batteries, a huge bag of film and a pager (which used “AAA” batteries that lasted 3 weeks) was easy.

As I look at the basic power needs of my quick ‘run-kit,’ I require a minimum of four outlets.   This minimum set up is for my laptop, a single camera battery charger, Blackberry charger and an iPhone charger.   Yes, the iPhone can be charged off the laptop, but doing that slows down the charging of the laptop, which is problematic during shorter layovers.   For many trips I also need an outlet to charge my Sony PSP (also known as ‘the sanity keeper’), often a second camera battery charger and at times an “AA” charger.

…so, now we’re looking at a minimum of six or seven outlets.   Check into a hotel, often you’re lucky if you can access two or four outlets.   Walk into an airline lounge at the airport and you can sometimes find two, sit down on an airport floor between a garbage bin and screaming kid, you’re lucky to find a single outlet.

When I travel I always carry a simple item, which costs less than US$2.00, which instantly gives me access to three outlets.   This item is a multi-outlet splitter three way splitters you can find at any hardware store (technically they are called “Polarized – Single Receptacle to 3 Outlets” or “Rubber Polarized Triple Adapter”).    I wrote about using and modifying these back in March of 2008 in this post: 15/03/08 – Electrical Outlets: Need More In Less Space?

Many people pick up a short  ‘strip bar’ for additional electrical sockets, however these ‘strip bars’ take up unneeded space and add additional weight to what you are packing.    Sure the power strip gives you a cord for additional length, but in a location such as a hotel, airline lounge or airport floor do you need the length?

To avoid taking up any more space than absolutely required I prefer to use the self-contained ‘cube shaped’ multi-outlet splitters.     When I purchase these items I make sure the side outlets face the opposite direction of the metal prongs that will be inserted into the outlet.   This ensures I will not be blocking off a potential outlet when I stack two of them on top of each other.

As you can see in the photo at the end of this post, the smaller ‘cube shaped’ multi-outlet splitter is a fraction of the size of the larger power strip, while allowing me access to the same number of outlets.   As I travel with two of these multi-outlet splitters I simply stack plug them into each other, essentially stacking them, and toss them in my kit.   The two ‘cubes’ stacked together still take up significantly less space than a single power-strip, while double my potential access to power outlets.

While the difference in these two items may seem trivial, when you start packing for whole trips, with all of your equipment and clothing, in a single carry-on bag, every square centimeter of your bag becomes valuable real-estate, and trivial items become real factors in being able to do your job, do it quickly and do it effectively.

The ultra-cheap and compact ‘Polarized – Single Receptacle to 3 Outlets’ can be found at any hardware store, the hardware section of virtually every big-box store and near the light bulbs in virtually every grocery store you’ll walk through.

Below is a photo of my one of 3-outlet power strips and 3-outlet ‘cubes.’

Happy Flying!
–Click Image Below To Enlarge–


  1. A word of caution…

    Probably not an issue with your outlets shown, but I purchased a nifty outlet expander last year to take with me on a trip to Italy. It was small, probably only slightly bigger than the one shown in your photo with 4 outlets and packed well. It even had a surge protector built into it.

    Therein lies the problem…The first night in the hotel in Italy I needed to charge a “few things”. I plugged the strip into the outlet with my European plug adapter and instantly…POW, followed immediately by the lights going out in the room (cussing was involved). My 110v surge protector didn’t like the 220volts that the outlet provided.

    I had to call the front desk and have them send maintenance up to the room as I had blown a breaker somewhere in the bowels of the building.

    When maintenance showed up I tried to explain the problem to him but he only spoke Italian and I am barely fluent in my native english.

    He went off down the hall mumbling something, there was probably cussing involved, but thankfully I couldn’t understand it. Eventually the lights came back on.

    My nifty plug strip was “TOAST” too, I brought it home and dissected it and removed the charred surge protector components and reassembled it. Now I have a European friendly plug strip minus the surge protector that should work just fine anywhere in the world as long as I have the appropriate adapter.

    MORAL: Don’t use a US surge protected plug strip in any location that has 220V power mains.

  2. Bob,

    When you use ANY electrical device outside of a known area you should ALWAYS make sure the device you are using handles the proper voltage and that you have the correct electrical outlet adapter.

    I ensure that every device and power supply I travel with is universal, meaning it is OK for 110v & 220v outlets. The simple outlet-splitters I am discussing simply pass electricity, they are neither 110 or 220, they are simply a conduit for the electrical flow.

    What you described was likely caused by plugging a 110v into Italy’s 230v (220v works just fine) electrical outlet.

    Always know the voltage of your devices and the voltage of the country you’re headed to!

    Happy Flying!


  3. Fish,

    I did just that, I checked everything to make sure it said 110-220V before I left. All were good to go.

    I bought the small outlet strip a few days before I left and didn’t give the surge feature a thought, after all as you say the power strip just feeds AC in from the wall and connects it to multiple outlets, NO PROBLEMO right!… WRONG! (If it has a surge protector built in). As soon as it went POW and the lights went out I realized what the problem was. My cussing was aimed at myself for being such a dummy.

    My gutted plug strip is now compatible everywhere!

    Just thought I would give everyone a heads up.

  4. Bob,


    My guess, and I am not an electrician, is that the hotel outlet had a problem! I have used my set up in Japan, Hong Kong, Beijing, Germany, France, Holland, England, South Korea, Switzerland, Bahrain, Kuwait and a few other places without any problems.

    It is possible you checked into a hotel with a wiring issue. Two or three years ago I checked into a small hotel outside of London, plugged in my mobile phone…and only the mobile phone…and the TV went weird. When I plugged in my Canon 1D battery charger I blew the fuse for the what I think was at least 4 or 5 rooms judging by the yelling going on. I know for a fact that a Motrola Razr and a Canon battery charger should not blow the fuses for a block of rooms at a hotel.

    Happy Flying!


  5. Actually after the power was restored I could use the outlet, but I could only charge on item at a time since I didn’t have my outlet strip to use. The rest of the trip became a logistical issue to get stuff charged what with battery swaps in the middle of the night etc.

    The plug strip blew the breaker when I plugged it in before I connected any chargers to it.

  6. Bob,
    Don’t feel bad. I did the same thing in Moscow. Damn surge protectors.

    The only bad thing with those types of outlets is that they don’t accept 3 prong plugs.


  7. I was just looking into how to get rid of as many wallwarts as possible

    go over to
    look for Super Travel A/C USB Wall Chargers (5 outputs) (for HTC, Blackberry, iPhone, iPod…)
    Product Code#:AG0940

    that will handle 4 – USB cords plus has a cord for a USB mini

    then head to Ebay….get
    Retractable Black USB Cable Cord for iPod Nano Video
    USB 2.0 Retractable Mini USB Data Cable A-B for PSP MP3
    any other USB to whatevers that are needed.

    So, that would be one WallWart and a few cables and should fit in a small space. Plus it has International plus as well!

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